The Government Is So Incompetent People Are Turning to Contagion's Screenwriter for Coronavirus Information

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Screenshot: Contagion (YouTube)

As the United States finds itself in the midst of an epidemic, with seemingly a trickle of information and assistance provided by the CDC (and a near-total dearth of it from the clown-boys tasked with running the country), solid and reliable advice has become a take-it-where-you-can-get-it situation. Some of us have been gleaning that information from the websites of countries with more competent governments, which is where I first learned that it is prudent to keep one meter between your person and anyone you may be speaking with (thank you, United Kingdom) and that social distancing is a good idea in slowing the spread of the virus (thank you, South Korea). Judging by the number of quarantine hoaxes plaguing Twitter and being taken seriously by even the most serious of people, it’s clear that pandemic panic is making everyone a little bit desperate.


Case in point: Variety turned to Scott Z. Burns, who is not to my knowledge any sort of medical professional but did write the screenplay for Contagion, the 2011 pandemic horror film in which Gwyneth Paltrow plays Patient Zero during a virus pandemic and dies dramatically after a mouth-foaming seizure (yes, I recently rewatched it, too—good movie). In the face of such institutional chaos, Burns, who spent three years working with scientists and the CDC in order to make his screenplay believable, seems as solid a source as any!

In an interview, Burns said he is washing his hands and avoiding large crowds, and that he, too, is freaked out by the leisurely nature of the government’s response to the nature of the virus. And of Trump’s CDC budget cuts, he told Variety that he was “terrified. Every scientist who I spoke to when I worked on the movie said that exact same thing to me: It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when.’” He continued:

You can decide that most of the time, firemen are just sitting around. But it’s very hard to start a fire department once your house is on fire. And so the notion that we’re going to cut these things and we’ll just try to rebuild them when we need them is foolish and dangerous. I was very aware that our Department of Homeland Security had a pandemic team standing by because this is a real threat. The fact that this administration decided to do away with that puts all of us at risk.

Another “fun” thing to think about is that Burns thinks the actual predicament in which the U.S. currently finds itself is potentially worse than the one he envisioned for Contagion:

I think in relation to real life, I had spent enough time at the CDC to know that there were really dedicated people there, waiting to deal with problems like this. I hadn’t contemplated as a screenwriter what would happen in an administration where we defended public health and defunded pandemic preparedness and defunded science, and then went one step further and discredited health officials who were trying to protect us. That was something, as a screenwriter, I never could have anticipated.

Ha ha! You guys! Everything’s going to be just fine. But as viewers learned from Contagion, don’t go outside, don’t carry a gun to the Whole Foods, and absolutely do not check into any hotels—because if Kate Winslett can croak not even midway through a Soderbergh blockbuster, anything can happen, really.

An earlier version of this post conflated “England” with the entire UK, which was dumb. Jezebel regrets the error!


Mortal Dictata

more competent governments... (thank you, England)

First of all, UK not “England” (unless it turns out that Jez is staffed by fanatical ScotNats).

Secondly yeah, wouldn’t stretch that far. Our response is massively hampered by the politicisation of the response. Social care (so home carers) are still working standard practices rather than NHS ones (so hot-desking and many visits a day is still the norm), testing is a mess as the advice is you can’t possible have coronavirus unless you’ve been abroad or been in close contact with a confirmed case so few are actually tested, guidance to employers is spotty so in shared buildings you can have one sending everyone to work from home while others are mandating everyone come to work, and large events aren’t being banned.

As a result the government have been forced to admit that the 500+ figure of cases is likely out by an order of magnitude and are now going from “two weeks self-iso if told to by the NHS” to “if you have a cough (the most common symptom of all time) then stay home for 7 days”.